Changes in store for this year’s Boston Marathon
The U.S. Army got the boot. Meanwhile, "bandits" need not apply.
"Terrorism wins again," said Hopkinton businessman Rob Phipps, who gladly houses runners in the Boston Marathon the night before the race. Phipps is a former race start chairman and has observed the event for decades.
There will be plenty of changes this year for the Patriots Day race. The bombings at last year’s finish line that claimed three lives and injured dozens made sure of that. Some changes are expected to be visually evident. Others will be of a more subtle nature.
Either way, like it or not, organizers had no option but to change the mood, and while runners and sponsors are expected to rally in the face of fear, a sunny Marathon day will do little to cast away the dark clouds that remain and serve as remnants and reminders of last year’s tragedy.
It’s not the marathon we know. Just ask the active members in fatigues at the U.S. Army Soldier Research Development and Engineering Center in Natick, about 15 miles into the race route east of Hopkinton. It is the only active Army base in New England, and its soldiers for years have run during the race in complete uniform with weighted ruck sacks.
They have done so with a degree of pride, while adding a level of security to the festivities.
But not this year. Ruck sacks, backpacks and anything that resembles those items are banned. If you are caught running -- or even observing -- the race with one, you will be asked to turn it over. The Army isn’t happy, but understands.
"It does seem contradictory," said retired Lt. Col. David Accetta, who is the director of public affairs at the base. "Maybe we can run next year. But this year there are security concerns, and some of our soldiers are definitely disappointed. There are also colleges along the race route where ROTC members also run, and they have been denied too."
The fear, obviously, is the presence of copycat soldiers.
Pittsfield native and retired special education teacher Bob Sykes had a not-so-secret life as a "bandit" during the 1980s and ‘90s. "Bandits" are what the Marathon organizers call those who choose to run the race unregistered and without a bib number.
Sykes could never quite post a qualifying time during those years, but as one of the main organizers of the local "Matty’s Run," his spirit didn’t get in the way of not qualifying. He ran, regardless. This year, with security the operative word, "bandits" will be whisked off the course if spotted by race volunteers assigned to such a task.
Sykes, when he ran, represented the best of what the "bandits" offered the race.
"Was this not the spirit of the Revolutionary era?" he said. Perhaps, but two bombs and three lost lives has for the moment changed the culture.
Said Sykes: "The Marathon is dear to my heart. We [bandits] were treated as well or even better than the qualifying runners. I can still see the towns along the race route and I was always proud to be out there with the Kenyans, Ethiopians and all the gifted American runners. The crowds wouldn’t let you quit."
Phipps said that life in Hopkinton has pretty much remained the same as the race draws near. But the added security, he said, probably will be both felt and noticed.
"Yes, security is being built up and there are new restrictions," he said.
Accetta, meanwhile, said the soldiers on his base may run an alternate route.
Still, it’s not the same. Not much this year is.
"Many of our soldiers a year ago who were involved in the race in one capacity or another ended up being first responders at the finish line," said Accetta, who like everyone else is hoping for the best.
Brian Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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